Keeping Up With Hauntology (Part 3)

Many thanks again to Padraig, who left an extensive and really excellent follow-up comment on my previously blogged response in what is surely now a conversation on hauntology — a conversation on a blog! There’s still life in the blogosphere yet!

Padraig writes:

Matt, thanks for your excellent and extended response to my earlier very brief remarks about your post on holography and its related issues, and please forgive me for my somewhat lengthy response below, something I had not at all originally planned, but which fervently developed out of an underlying long-standing desire to “cognitively map” some of the issues raised both by technology & hauntology, and their connection with Mark’s ideas, as well as with the philosophical sciences, the natural sciences, political aesthetics and psychoanalysis.

As we’re discussing the hauntological dimension of recordings (even if they are just amounting to digital re-animations, re-creations, or simulations, whether visual or aural) by reference to one of its more recent technical manifestations — holograms & holography — it might be beneficial to reconsider recorded artefacts here — whether in the visual realm of photography, film, video, 3D, holography, as well as the fine arts, or the aural media of recorded sound, from speech to music – in terms of their spectrality and their relation to postmodernity and late capitalism.

The first issue to address is whether we’re to treat holography, in its current instantiations, as exclusively postmodern or whether it has a hauntological dimension. Recall, firstly, Mark’s contention that hauntology (derived from his readings of Marx, Derrida, Freud, and Lacan, as well as from such popular-cultural works as The Shining, Sapphire & Steel, The Caretaker, Burial etc.) is postmodernism’s doppelganger, that is to say, is its repressed underside, is that on which late capitalism forecloses. Instead of hauntology — of the in-becomings of past modernisms, movements, forms, relics, of their never-realised anticipations, their ‘lost futures’ — postmodernism instead just resurrects and simulates the dead forms of the past (“the nostalgic mode”), perpetuates them in their very deadness, persisting as dead, as the living dead, as an undead zombie culture in continuous decay, such archaic-dead cultural simulations serving as an extra-ideological or fetishistic support for late capitalism, as its “cultural logic”. Far from such living-dead simulations being an escape from quotidian reality, much less a challenge to it, they were what further enabled it, reproduced it, and perpetuated it (“capitalist realism”: Mark renamed Jameson’s late capitalist postmodernism as capitalist realism because it had now become so ubiquitous, hegemonic, full-spectrum dominant — retro culture and business ontology were now pervasive and largely unconscious, with the archaic presented as “new and innovative” everywhere while the genuinely innovative and challenging was paranoiacally dismissed, censored, aggressively discarded as passé and “old-fashioned”, still continuing).

Is, then, holography to be treated as just more vacuous postmodern kitsch — as “special effects” or (potentially) as a hauntological spectre that touches the unconscious real? Certainly its applications and instantiations to date seem affectless, deflationary, and banal, as they seem to reside in an atemporal, non-spacial, decontextualised, dehistoricised, empty-iconic realm of pervasive, flattened-out CGI, devoid of even the uncanny, as well as of the eerie or the weird. There’s a Hollywood-Disney comical-cartoonishness about CGI holograms precisely because, like cartoons, they are in infantile denial of death and sexuality. Like the Death Drive itself, everything is eternal in cartoons, their supernaturalist denial of mortality and finitude being their primary appeal. It is perhaps too early to say, but I don’t think we can dismiss all of photography and film as just bland “special effects” irrespective of the class structures and public-state/private-corporate alignments and bourgeois interests from which their various inventions emerged.

If I might interject here, just so as to properly give each point space to breath. I think this is a really interesting point.

I agree. This is the temporal tension that I often find flattened in a lot of hauntological writing. I suppose the issue for photography or audio recording, etc., is that it is hauntological in Derrida’s original sense. (I made this point on Twitter recently.) Derrida notes a certain kind of reactionary hauntological mode, far too mournful, that prefigures “the ghost [something] is to become” (or something like that — quote not verbatim.) Rather than doing “the work of mourning”, it makes the affect of mourning eternal.

Roland Barthes has that experience with photography, in that he sees in the photograph of his mother an eternality which she does not have. The same is true of audio recordings, like Basinski’s tape loops, the destruction of which is recorded so that it then exists for eternity and isn’t actually allowed to die. But I think you’re right that preserving something that goes onto die is one thing; resurrecting something is another matter.

Francois Bonnet’s recently translated book After Death is excellent on this (and Meta-Nomad’s recent essay on it is as well.)

Still, there’s an important tension here, which I’m thinking about quite a lot at the moment, which is that hauntology tries to walk a fine line between two modes of production of the new that are in crisis; it slides between Deleuzian multiplicity and Badiouian event.

(This might seem like something of a tangent but hopefully its relevance becomes clear in due course.)

Sam Gillespie discusses the difference between the two with incredible lucidity in his 2008 book The Mathematics of Novelty. He notes how, for Deleuze — quoting the man himself — “the aim of philosophy is not to rediscover the eternal or universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced.” Gillespie notes, then, that Deleuze’s “principal adversary” in this regard was not Hegel but Plato; “a Platonism of eternal, unchanging forms, existing independently of a world that is continually in a state of change.” It is philosophy’s responsibility, as far as Deleuze is concerned, to uncover “the conditions under which that change occurs.”

These conditions are, in one sense, the conditions of being itself. To jettison creativity into some outside is disastrously theological. Deleuze does not believe that all of life emerges from a kind of Oneness – be that one God or the Oneness of the universe – but from a pure and churning multiplicity. “The ‘lines of flight’ that should be familiar to even the most casual reader of Deleuze find their convergence not in a singular point,” Gillespie notes, “but in the various ‘bifurcations’ and ‘divergences’ they assume in the course of their own movement” — be that the evolution of life itself or the movement of cultural production, the New will generate itself.

Badiou, however, does not assume “that being exists as a creative power, but rather that to think being we need nothing more than a formal assertion that nothing … exists.” This is his “minimalist metaphysics” or his “anti-nihilist nihilism”. Gillespie asserts, however, that in many ways Deleuze’s and Badiou’s positions are not so different – “contemporary mathematics attests to the fact that zero” – as Badiou’s starting point – “and infinity” – akin to Deleuze’s notion of multiplicity – “are coextensive.” But when we consider the production of the New, the conceptual difference between these two positions becomes quite stark. We can imagine, perhaps, a generative infinity, but what is it to create ex nihilo?

The reason I’m mentioning this is that I think this is what Enrico Monacelli is gesturing towards in his recent essay on hauntology. (In Italian here but English version is forthcoming, I believe.) He makes an interesting provocation that undermines the cliched logic of most hauntological takes: how can you be nostalgic for something that exists eternally?

Again, that’s perhaps the difference between photography and holography that I think you very rightly emphasise here. But it does make me feel somewhat uneasy about Fisher’s separation between postmodernism and hauntology. (Personally, I don’t think there is one — postmodernism is the process; hauntology is its — potentially generative — effect on subjectivity)

I’ve recently been thinking that this may be another issue of Fisher stealing an already existing word or phrase and undermining himself in the process. I don’t think that what he is gesturing at is a “good postmodernism” — as Alex Williams once called it — but perhaps an “infra-modernism”. Hauntology is a way of shining a light on the modernist tendencies that still occasionally emerge from postmodernism. None of this is so simple as he makes it out, however. In fact, I think that’s why mentioning Badiou and Deleuze is important — they linger in the background, and their compatibility is a major talking point for the speculative realists, but Mark does have a tendency to obfuscate the nuts and bolts to his own disservice.

This is most apparent in his writing on hauntology and accelerationism. I know you said recently on Twitter how salvagepunk is part of hauntology’s toolkit but I think it is closer to accelerationism — and even then, perhaps hauntology and accelerationism are two sides of the same coin. But I think each again represents a different kind of “new” struggling to persist as postmodernity attempts to collapse both onto each other: one revolutionary and explosive; the other reformist and recombinant. The issue for hauntology / accelerationism is that both are arguably cancelling each other out, due to the fact they are held in such close proximity within the imaginative lack of late capitalism.

And so, in that sense, I do think holography exists in a peculiar middle ground, where generating a hologram of someone long dead is based on nothing but a CGI likeness, and therefore quite radically a new imagining of that person, but is also oddly recombinant of other people’s expectations.

This might be a considerable amount of overthinking, but I think when we are left asking the question “is this postmodern or hauntological?”, we’re already in a hauntological space. It is a question that precisely points to the somewhat abortive presence of “the New” that cannot be resolved. And it is that lack of resolve that allows capitalism to feed on it.

Padraig continues:

For some of the most moving and numinously sublime haeccieties are to be found in photography and film/cinema: see Mark’s post on John Foxx’s Tiny Colout Movies (‘old sunlight from other times and other lives’: John Foxx’s Tiny Colour Movies: June 19, 2006. This is easily one of Mark’s most insightful posts) for more on this and on the precise contexts in which visual recordings and artefacts can have the most profound affects eg Mark’s judgement on the famous slow-lingering tracking shot and sequence in Tarkovsky’s Stalker as “the most moving scene in all of cinema”:

“This is not an inner but an Outer calm; not a discovery of a cheap New Age ‘real’ Self , but a positive alienation, in which the cold pastoral freezing into a tableau is experienced as a release from identity. Dun Scotus’ concept of the haecceity – the ‘here and now’ – seems particularly apposite here. Deleuze and Guattari seize upon this in A Thousand Plateaus as a depersonalized mode of individuation in which everything – the breath of the wind, the quality of the light – plays a part. A certain use of film – think, particularly, of the aching stillness in Kubrick and Tarkovsky – seems especially set up to attune us to hacceity; as does the polaroid, a capturing of a haecceity which is itself a haecceity.”

“To leaf through other people’s family photos, to see moments that were of intense emotional significance for them but which mean nothing to you, is, necessarily, to reflect on the times of high drama in your own life, and to achieve a kind of distance that is at once dispassionate and powerfully affecting. That is why the – beautifully, painfully – dilated moment in Tarkovsky’s Stalker where the camera lingers over talismanic objects that were once saturated with meaning, but are now saturated only with water is for me the most moving scene in cinema. It is as if we are seeing the urgencies of our lives through the eyes of an Alien-God.”

“But, contrary to today’s dominant Ego Psychology, which hectors us into reinforcing our sense of self (all the better to ‘sell ourselves’), the awareness of our own Nothingness is of course a pre-requisite for a feeling of grace. There is a melancholy dimension to this grace precisely because it involves a radical distanciation from what is ordinarily most important to us.”

This is fascinating, and again shows how Mark’s Deleuzian drive for newness finds itself stepping into Badiouian territory. (Not that that is much of an insight — they do have plenty of overlap, in some respects.) But it also speaks to Mark’s Spinozism, which I think foreshadows a lot of neo-rationalism, and is arguably the shared starting point for Deleuze and Badiou despite their other divergences.

However, I’d argue that Mark later thawed on his Kubrickian coldness. I don’t say this to refute your nod to this post — it is magnificent — but I do think it once again points to a tension and an unsettled part of his thought. His transition from hauntology to accelerationism to acid communism (whilst all remain related to one another and share a common thread or set of problems) does suggest he finds himself once again falling between these two broadly Continental positions, like many of his peers.

There is a sense in which – one core aspect of – much of the entire Renaissance project, from early to late, from Da Vinci to Vermeer, was photography’s futur anterieur. The entire theoretical framework, methodology, and materiality of many Renaissance painters already entailed most all the elements, the components of what would later emerge as the photo camera, all elements bar one – the recording surface itself, the photo-sensitive chemicals on a glass plate, the eventual analogue-celluloid film strip. These artists drew on the Theory of Optics and used the Camera Obscura, mirrors, lenses, vanishing point, one-point perspective, chiarascuro, in preparing for, framing, and designing their paintings. If anything, photography was the end result of the late Renaissance/late Baroque/Rococo/neo-Classical eras, with its growing preoccupations with realism and empiricism and ‘natural philosophy’.

The beginnings of Modernism – at least in the fine arts – were therefore a dialectical response to and engagement with the invention of photo-realism via photography, for the early modernisms in the 19th century, such as the Impressionists and the Pre-Raphaelites, did, of course, move in a very different direction to photo-realism, of a move away from a suddenly excessively present empiricism, simultaneously banal and overpowering, to both the symbolic and the fantasmatic-real, to the radically external real that the immediate-empirical excludes (hinting at a world beyond the Reality Principle, of contingency and possibility), and while some of it can be rightfully rejected as smug escapism and mysticism by the then-emerging bourgeois leisure classes, it nevertheless also reflected the latest developments in Optics Theory and the Colour Field, such as the central role of Colour Complementarity (the three doubly intense and ultra contrasting pairs of primary additive and primary subtractive colours: Red and Cyan, Green and Magenta, and Blue and Yellow/Orange), its insights informing also the post-impressionists, the early expressionists and proto-surrealists, the Fauvists, the Pointillists, from Monet to Van Gogh, and on into the 20th Century modernisms of Dadaism, Cubism, Constructivism, Surrealism, and Abstraction. All of that was occurring against the ‘realist’ backdrop of an increasingly dominant and mass marketed photography as well as the growth of what was suddenly termed “Science”, a term that only gained acceptance in the 19th century, replacing – after about two millenia – Natural Philosophy.

Painting and photography/film have themselves a spectral relation, much like the reversing ontological relation between sculpture and architecture (eg sculpture as a materialisation of the enclosed spaces, the voids, of architecture, of inhabited buildings). Take a film like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, with its meticulously precise dynamic-filmic recreations of 18th Century Rococo paintings, where the formerly easy distinctions between painting and film/cinematography start to disintegrate, while still creating an intense and desubjectified vision of an imagined past that is a symptom, that bears witness to our own present.

This is fascinating, and perhaps again suggests an uncomfortable middle-ground for this sort of technology.

There’s probably a point to be made regarding the hologram of Tupac, for example — that the sampling of his image from beyond the grave is arguably fair game given hip-hop’s penchant for détournement. But, as you demonstrate, photography’s aping of painterly motifs — the new salvaging from the old or already established — backfired in that it freed painting from its own trajectory and made it new again.

We already discussed this briefly on Twitter, but this is what separates hauntography from something like salvagepunk, I think. Was photography painting’s accelerationist moment? Rather than capturing it, it revealed a way out through painting’s own aesthetic boundaries?

In that clip from The Wire previously posted, it is interesting that Mark says that salvagepunk is

at once a sensibility; a kind of non-genre embracing film, fiction and other cultural spheres; and a theoretical framework … opposed to the “inherent flatness and equivalency of postmodern cultural production”.

He continues:

By opposition to postmodern pastiche, in which any sign can be juxtaposed with any other in a friction-free space, salvagepunk retains the specificity of cultural objects, even as it bolts them together into new assemblages. That’s precisely because salvagepunk is dealing with objects rather than signs. While signs are interchangeable, objects have particular properties, textures and tendencies, and the art of salvage is about knowing which objects can be lashed together to form viable constructions.

Holography once again falls through the cracks here, however. And, as you suggest, this might just be because it’s too early to claim it one way or another. But the Robert Kardashian hologram feels like a challenge to this. In many ways, it is a kind of sentimental détournement — and therefore postmodern in the sense that it collapses a paradoxical assemblage onto a new flatness. In representing a specific person, no longer with us but resurrected, is RK a object-become-sign? Or an object-sign in his very spectrality?

Is that what makes it postmodern? Rather than disintegrating distinctions it attempts to represent both. It disintegrates by reifying rather than disintegrating the reified?…


  1. Just a quick note re hauntology

    From hauntology to the eerie: we might conjecture that Mark’s theorising of the eerie is itself “haunted” by his earlier theorising of the hauntological. What starkly noticeable is that his last text, The Weird and the Eerie makes no mention whatsoever of hauntology/the hauntological, only many references throughout to “haunting”, and the “haunted”. Why this omission, this anomaly?

    But then, the similarities between the hauntological and the eerie are too great to overlook. Recall Mark’s initial definition of hauntology via Derrida: “Derrida defines hauntology as the study of that which repeats without ever being present. To elaborate, we might say that the revenant repeats without being present in the first place – where ‘place’ is equivalent in meaning to ‘time’. Nothing occupies the point of origin, and that which haunts insists without ever existing. ”

    Derrida’s hauntology occupies the space between Being and Nothingness (both the “no longer” and the “not yet”), and Lacan’s ‘hauntology’ is located “between the two deaths”, of symbolic death or real death. The eerie is also located between Being and Nothingness, is also “between the two deaths”, of something where there should be nothing (failure of absence/nothingness) or of nothing where there should be something (failure of presence/being).

    Mark developed his ideas about Hauntology in parallel with those about the Weird (including weird fiction and weird realism), which is why he later distinguishes between the eerie and the weird, the latter entailing an ontological collapse, a collision of worlds, a “wrongness” of place, of that which does not belong, of the surreal montage, and a possible descent into psychosis/schizophrenia and/or the construction of a new world, a new reality.

    Mark again: “Hauntology isn’t a political strategy. It’s about responding to what’s there –or about what *absently insists* in what is there. It’s best conceived of as a symptomatology, cultural rather than political (where culture is very much read, naturally, as a political-economic effect).”

    Their relation to accelerationism is that they’re cultural lines of flight, are an aesthetics of desubjectivisation and disidentification via an encounter with the radical Outside, and indirectly entail a radical libidinal re-engineering separate from postmodern neoliberal late capitalism, a post-capitalist realism.

    Acid communism is also about the “not yet” hauntology of the counterculture, but “acid” is here double, referring to acidic/caustic/cold/mordant/critical reason as much as to psychedelic reason.

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